In an odd twist of scheduling, President Joe Biden was meeting here Thursday with a leader who’s amplified conspiracy theories the very same hour that startling new details emerged about the conspiracy to deny him the presidency.
Biden had for months been averse to engaging Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who US officials fear is parroting former President Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud to undermine Brazil’s system ahead of his own reelection bid this fall.
But in order to lure him to Los Angeles for a summit of regional leaders that was plagued by boycotts, Biden agreed to a one-on-one meeting.
And so, on Thursday afternoon, Biden found himself in a conference room alongside a man who, two days earlier, had deemed his 2020 victory “suspicious.” Meanwhile, back in Washington, the House committee investigating attempts to overturn that election was putting the finishing touches on its blockbuster public hearing.
“I’m anxious to hear what’s on your mind and talk about whatever you want to talk about,” Biden told Bolsonaro somewhat obliquely before their meeting. “I’d like to listen as well as raise a few issues that are of, I think, mutual interest to us.”
Biden’s meeting with Bolsonaro demonstrated the lengths he was willing to go to in order to offer a unified picture of the Western Hemisphere at a conference where disunity was often on display. And its coincidental timing alongside the House hearing on the events of January 6, 2021 — where the autocratic tendencies of the previous US President were exposed in sometimes-shocking fashion — laid bare the difficulty in using America’s example to promote democracy in an increasingly fractured region.
Biden was able to secure some important commitments this week, including an agreement on migration that came together at the last minute. But questions over attendance and the region’s disparate priorities were still on ample display. And Biden’s political struggles were never far from the surface.
Here are three takeaways from this week’s Summit of the Americas.
Trump lingered over this week’s summit in Southern California like the June gloom, from his Brazilian protégé to the hearing exposing his disinformation scheme to the persistent questions about American commitment in a region he mostly ignored.
Biden actively and explicitly worked to convince his counterparts that he was adopting his own, different approach.
“I think that there’s a means by which we can maybe undo some of the damage done the previous four years, when it wasn’t very much taken seriously — the relationships,” he said while meeting with leaders from the Caribbean.
A little while later, he said during the summit’s opening plenary session that he wanted to discuss “proposals that I think are a far cry from what we saw from our previous American administration.”
This week’s summit amounted to the type of presidential work Trump found little use for during his time in office. He skipped the Summit of the Americas when he was in office and complained to his aides about attending the G7 and G20 meetings, questioning their point.
Even President Barack Obama sometimes dreaded the kind of massive summit where he was left to sit for hours listening to endless speeches by other world leaders. He was often seen chomping away on nicotine gum as he took his seat.
There was little question that Biden would reverse that trend. He said this week that he had often reminded Obama that “all politics is personal” — and that actually accomplishing anything required showing up in person.
“It makes a difference when you get to know someone,” he said at the start of a dinner he hosted in the Getty Villa’s Mediterranean gardens, near Malibu. “Whether you agree or not, it makes a difference to look in their eyes and understand a little bit more what’s in their heart.”
Biden was in fact so absorbed in meeting his fellow leaders that he missed Thursday night’s January 6 hearing in its entirety, despite telling the Canadian Prime Minister earlier in the day that the event would “occupy my country.”
“Didn’t have time,” Biden said with a shrug when CNN asked whether he’d caught any of the coverage.